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Profiles in Dignity:
Bibi Lakhvinder Kaur & Bibi Jagdish Kaur





Some images seen lately on an Indian TV channel have shaken me out of the torpor of my mundanely comfortable daily routine to pen my thoughts down and send them to Sikh

I am never impressed by the quality of the programmes on this Indian TV channel with its lot of prima-donna-like female anchors, each trying to outdo the other in interrupting the guest speakers by yelling in their singularly shrill voices. The cacophony of their voices has to be heard to be believed. Why eminent guest speakers allow themselves to be browbeaten in this fashion by this brigade of viragos is for them to explain!

However that may be, on this very channel I have seen two outstanding examples of profiles in dignity by two Sikh women -- Bibi Lakhvinder Kaur and Bibi Jagdish Kaur.

Both these ladies suffered horrendous personal losses during the state-fostered pogrom inflicted on the Sikh community in Delhi, India’s capital city, and other areas in the country, following the assassination of the then prime minister, Mrs Indira Gandhi in 1984.

Both are widows whose husbands, brothers, uncles, and other family members were brutally killed in front of their eyes by rampaging mobs while the Delhi police either passively stood by doing nothing or actively participated in the massacre.

Most of us, belonging to reasonably affluent strata of society, comfortably installed in our arm chairs in countries outside India or even in India, cannot even imagine the horrors that these two women must have seen happening at that time.

Even a fraction of what they witnessed would be sufficient to turn most of us, with all our acquired intellectual baggage, into bitter foes of those who inflicted such atrocities upon us.

Yet, what I saw on the TV screen made me realise how strongly the spirit infused by the Tenth Master, Guru Gobind Singh, into those who follow him, lives on in these women. It was a lesson in dignity, a fitting answer to all those, Sikhs or others, who still deny women full equality of treatment in all spheres of our daily lives.

Both women were being interviewed by women TV anchors in their anglicised Hindi, laced with English words, surrounded by a battery of guest speakers, all belonging to the anglicised brown-sahib Indian elite, self professed or otherwise.

I would certainly have been rendered nervous in such a situation.

Bibi Lakhvinder Kaur and Bibi Jagdish Kaur not only did not flinch from answering the questions being posed by the TV journalists but did so in such a calm manner that I was jolted out of my complacency.

How can anybody remain indifferent to such a display of Sikhi values?

Bibi Lakhvinder Kaur was answering questions after the judgement by a Delhi lady magistrate (not a Sikh, it must be pointed out) that one of the leading lights of the ruling Congress party in India must face a new trial for mass-murder. The presiding magistrate rejected the petition by India’s leading investigation agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation (“CBI“), to close the case against this Congress VIP.

Digressing slightly, I am always amazed at how any Sikh can still vote for the Congress Party after what was inflicted on our community in 1984, and since. I am certainly not suggesting that other parties are full of angels but Sikhs voting for the Congress party, and so many do, is like Jews voting for the Nazis after what happened to them in Nazi Germany.

If this sounds exaggerated (I can already hear howls of protest by Congress Sikhs), observe the lives of the widows and orphans of the massacre of 1984.

Coming back to the topic at hand, the journalist asked Bibi Lakhvinder Kaur what she planned to do. The simple answer was that she would fight till her last breath to get justice, to get the killers punished. She said that fighting for justice was the principle gifted by Guru Gobind Singh.

She said it with such evident sincerity that it had more impact on me than any speech by our self-styled Sikh leaders and intellectuals who leave me stone-cold. This lady managed to show the essence of Sikhi’s message to never accept injustice, regardless of the might of the oppressor, to fight on regardless
of consequences, to the very end.

She did not appeal to anybody to show pity by highlighting her fragile economic condition or putting her fatherless children on display on the TV screen. She calmly replied to the TV journalist’s question that her elder daughter was a few years old and she was pregnant with her second daughter, both now young women, when her husband was slaughtered by rampaging mobs, totally unchecked by any governmental authority.

She showed steely determination without getting emotional in a dramatised way.

A real lesson in courage and dignity.

I felt that I was watching a true daughter of Guru Gobind Singh. My head bowed to her in respect.

Some days later, I saw Bibi Jagdish Kaur on a discussion forum on this same TV channel. It was just after a Delhi court had acquitted a prominent Congress leader of all charges relating to the massacre of Sikhs in a particular area of Delhi in 1984.

Bibi ji was in a panel, again of totally anglicised Indian notables who were speaking heavily-accented desi English with patronising demeanours.

In response to the shrill-voiced TV anchor’s questions, Bibi Jagdish Kaur calmly listed out the members of her family who had been burnt to death in front of her eyes: husband, sons, brothers. She told the questioner that she did not speak English, so the questions should be put to her in Hindi. She replied in Hindi, with the occasional word of Punjabi.

Watching her, I was struck by how much more dignified she was compared to all other members of the panel, flaunting their dubious abilities in English language.

Bibi ji explained that she was deeply disappointed by the court verdict. She felt there was no justice left in the country for victims like her. Nevertheless, she would continue to fight on by all legal means available to seek justice in the name of her loved ones so brutally cut down in the prime of their lives by state-sponsored hoodlums.

When the TV anchor asked her how she got the strength to carry on in spite of all that she had suffered, she replied that this was the way shown by the Sikh Gurus. She was the daughter of a freedom fighter, who, like so many thousands of Sikhs, had fought for the independence of India from British rule, only to have this unpunished massacre of 1984 inflicted on their families.

Once again, I was struck by her simplicity and dignity.

I felt extremely small in comparison, with all my baggage of western education and linguistic skills.

Bibi ji was being a more accurate representative of the values of Sikhi than I can ever be.

Watching these two ladies on the TV screen reassured me that Sikhi lives on in such profiles of dignity and courage.

It reinforced my firm belief that any Sikh who still denies our women perfect equality in all spheres in daily life has understood nothing of Sikhi. He does not deserve to be called a Sikh. I wonder how many Sikh men would have the depth of faith displayed by these two women, faced with a tragedy of unimaginable proportions.

Clips of these two women on TV should be shown to all the so called Sikh jathedars and ‘leaders’ who continue to deny Sikh women perfect equality when it comes to doing seva, for example, at the Darbar Sahib in Amritsar or other gurdwaras. It should shake them out of their cocoon of purported masculine superiority, so totally in contradiction to the teachings of our Gurus of whom such people claim to be followers.
The suffering of our mothers and sisters in Delhi and other parts of India from 1984 should be a clarion call to all of us to unreservedly espouse the cause of equality for Sikh women in every aspect of our daily lives: religious, political and social.

If we still remain unmoved by such shining examples of courage and dignity in the face of extreme adversity, as displayed by these two Sikh ladies, then we are spiritually and morally only corpses, even though we may be physically alive.


[Dr. Jogishwar Singh was with the IAS (Indian Administrative Service) before leaving India in 1984, the year of cataclysmic events for Sikhs in India. With an M.Sc. (Hons School) in Physics and an M.A. in History from Panjab University, Chandigarh, he did his D.E.S.S. at Sorbonne in Paris, followed by a Ph.D. from Ruprecht-Karls University in Heidelberg, Germany. Now a Swiss citizen based in Le-Mont-sur-Laussanne, he is serving as a Managing Director with the world famous Rothschild Group in Geneva, having earlier served as Senior Vice-President, ING Bank, Switzerland and Director with the Deutsche Bank Switzerland. He is fluent in eight languages and has basic knowledge of two others.] 

May 10, 2013

Conversation about this article

1: Kanwar Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Ontario), May 10, 2013, 10:44 AM.

This is a great article and I think most of us must share the author's despair regarding the backward attitudes towards women, especially by those running Harmandar Sahib. Sikhism was the pioneer worldwide in advancing women's rights in Guru Nanak's day and now we are in middle of the pack. The question is, how do we collectively foster this change?

2: H. Kaur  (Canada), May 11, 2013, 1:01 AM.

I don't understand why Sikh women are not allowed to do kirtan in Harmandar Sahib or any other seva. They should also be allowed to be a part of punj pyarey everywhere. Some argue that the original punj pyarey were all men, so a woman needn't be one. I notice these same people don't care if they don't copy other things about the original punj pyarey for their selection, such as them having been from different communities and from different geographical regions. Or that they first had to go through a 'trial by fire' of sorts. I'm sure they didn't look all the same either -- in feature, colour, or height. It just shows how corrupt our so-called leaders have become and all they are interested in is perpetuating their power and dominance on nothing other than an assumption that their maleness makes them better (it certainly does not!). Unfortunately, you will find some women going along with them. Of course, in any oppressed group, there are some who will stand with those who oppress them. It is one of the symptoms of slavery, basically. I think Sikh women need to start some institution like the Damdami Taksal where daughters can be trained for religious leadership from a young age too. The Gurus had women preaching; Kabul, as one example, was a place assigned to a woman to preach Sikhi by one of the Sikh Gurus. It probably wasn't an easy place to deal with back then either. Men will never just willingly share power with women all of a sudden, women need to take what is rightfully theirs. I think Sikh men in general do respect a woman who is willing to exert power instead of just staying in her "place."

3: Devinder Pal Singh (Delhi, India), May 11, 2013, 2:09 AM.

It's indeed with great courage that the sufferers of the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom have borne the burden of marching on the so-called Indian judicial system demanding justice. As rightly highlighted by the author, we who have been blessed with the comforts have not moved out of the zone to support them. Please reflect a moment: there were thousands that had lost their lives, children, youth and elders. Their sacrifices enabled many an affluent citizen to survive those horrible and testing times and they continue to flourish. It's time that those thus lucky among us to add our voice and resources to the fight for justice. The political tie-ups that we see in the country have never cast hope for the minorities. Those minorities that are capable of influencing polls will always be cared for but not the rest. Will the Prime Minister break his stoic silence on this issue? He would prefer to stand aloof although the whole Sikh community at one time enjoyed his becoming the Prime Minister with the hope that he would be different. [EDITOR: Devinder ji: YOU live in New Delhi, the heart of the region that has victimized tens of thousands of our people. Your words are good. But tell us what YOU YOURSELF have done to address the very things you want others to do. It'll help point the way ...!]

4: N Singh (Canada), May 11, 2013, 12:30 PM.

I am more than willing to contribute and help the victims of 1984 as well as of the disappearances in the Punjab. The problem is how and whom to trust? My understanding is that soon after the pogroms thousands of dollars were donated by the diaspora to help settle these victims and unfortunately all that money has gone missing within Indian government coffers. I am sure that there are many in our community who would be more than willing to contribute both time and money but what has been lacking is leadership and know how. We need the equivalent of the United Sikhs, SikhRi, Ensaaf and other such institutions home-grown and bred in the Punjab who will enable us to do this. Instead, all we have is the corrupt Akali Dal and other hangers-on who do nothing except bleed the community dry and then sell us to our oppressors! The question is, how can we grow successful leaders and visionaries in a country and an environment which are anything but conducive to the qualities of honesty, compassion and community.

5: N Singh (Canada), May 11, 2013, 9:28 PM.

@#2: H. Kaur ji: Yes, I totally agree with you. It has also been my experience that Sikh men in general will respect a woman who is willing to exert her power and rights. I always let it be known that I am a daughter of a Sardar and it is my expectation that my rights be respected as dictated by Sikhi. Normally I will get a very positive response. I think the greatest challenge for Sikh women is not Sikh men in general but rather Sikh men within their own families (fathers, brothers, and husbands) who can be more difficult to deal with and are less accepting of them as equals.

6: H. Kaur (Canada), May 13, 2013, 11:35 AM.

N. Singh ji: what you say does make sense, that Sikh women face more challenges from Sikh men within their own families. I think the family unit of Punjabis really has nothing to do with Sikhi but is a mediaeval institution that sees woman as a risky piece of property that can tarnish the honour of her keepers if she behaves in certain ways, even through being too outspoken at times. The family unit has been used to keep woman down in other cultures too. The Victorian culture of Britian readily comes to mind. I think Sikh women need to consider that and also think of the message Sikhi gives, that we die alone and these people who wish us to lead lesser lives really don't matter. They should be challenged as enemies and made to be seen that they are acting as enemies and not be seen as family members if they interfere with our God-given rights and freedoms and refuse to change.

7: N Singh (Canada), May 13, 2013, 6:22 PM.

H Kaur ji: I think it would be extremely difficult for these women to summon up the courage to treat the men in their families as 'the enemy' since most are financially and socially dependent on them. This is where, I think, the community at large can come in. Such men, or rather such behaviour, needs to be ostracized until it is extinguished. This can happen by re-thinking and re-inventing social norms. On a separate but related topic, I am amazed at how many young women, born, bred and educated in Canada, are scared to express an opinion for fear of being viewed as too outspoken or opinionated, and thereby jeopardizing their chances of making suitable marriages. Power and independence is taken or won but never given by those who stand to gain by one's servitude. Independence, whether national or individual, comes at a price and someone has to be willing to pay that price. Most Sikh women should start by looking at themselves as the solution rather than go about acting like helpless victims. This is astonishing behaviour considering how much Sikh men are willing to make sacrifices for our freedom and yet Sikh women, at least most of them, continue to be perpetual victims, some even thinking this makes them more attractive to a potential mate.(The exceptions to the rule are of course those Sikh women involved in the freedom struggle or the fight for justice as both Bibi Lakhvinder Kaur and Bibi Jagdish Kaur have shown. They have my complete respect and admiration).

8: Gursimran Kaur (Mohali, Punjab), May 14, 2013, 1:55 AM.

Very well said, Jogishwer Singh ji. Another Sikh lady who has shown the same dignity and courage in the face of adversity and injustice like the two mentioned above is Bibi Upkar Kaur, mother of Prof. Davinder Pal Singh Bhullar who is currently on the death row in India. Like both the above-mentioned women, Upkar lost her loved ones at the hands of the oppressive Indian regime. Her husband and brother-in-law, both Gazetted Officers with the Government of India, were abducted, brutally tortured and murdered on the orders of Sumedh Saini, the present Director-General of Punjab Police. All these atrocities were committed on them because her son had raised his voice against the alleged abduction and disappearance of 42 students of the college where he taught, by the Punjab Police on suspicion of being militants. Devinder's friend, B S Multani, son of a serving IAS Officer, was also killed by police in a fake encounter. To avoid a police crackdown, Upkar's son had to leave his home, just two months after his marriage, never to return home again. The lives of Jagdish Kaur and Upkar Kaur have striking similarities. Both lost their husbands, sons and other relatives due to the state terrorism imposed on Sikhs after the army assault on the Darbar Sahib in June 1984. Both of them have spent a greater parts of their lives fighting against some really powerful people; Jagdish against Sajjan Kumar and Upkar against Sumedh Saini, with an indomitable spirit and exemplary courage. Jagdish's father had been honoured with a 'Taamar Patra' (given to the bravest freedom fighters of the Indian Freedom struggle). So, was Upkar's father-in-law. Jagdish suffered from the extremes of agony when she herself lit the pyre of her husband and son using the furniture of her house as no one helped her. Now, Upkar Kaur is suffering from the same agony as Devinder is now not in a state to even recognize her as his mother due to his extremely critical mental health owing to his last 10 yrs of solitary confinement inspite of being innocent. Jagdish Kaur told the Indian judiciary to hang her instead, if it couldn't hang her oppressors. Upkar did the same when she wrote a letter to the Punjab Chief Minister Badal asking him not to plead for mercy for her son as Badal has always acted against them by shielding Sumedh Saini on all fronts. Both these women from Amritsar are truly the Mai Bhagos of modern Sikh history. I would request upon some professional Sikh writers (T. Sher Singh ji ..?) to do some research and write some good piece of work about these two great Sikh ladies of our times.

9: H. Kaur (Canada), May 16, 2013, 2:29 AM.

N. Singh ji, you are right, of course. I was just really mad when writing that. I am just so sick and tired of how so many Indians treat women, even here. I never married because I just knew I could never stomach being treated as a second class citizen by some Indian pig and his parents (and other relatives). Yeah, I know they are all not like that, but a great many are to some extent, at least. I never went for someone else either for my mother wouldn't have liked it, not that all males of other communities are great (many of them are $$$$###*** too). These days I especially get pissed off when I see the discrimination. I just think, these sick, disgusting people listening to some BS made up by some dirty, stupid Brahmins who hated women for some reason. That is really all it is, this preference for males, paying people to take their daughters as wives, etc. They cling to these sick Brahminical practices and forget the teachings of the Sikh Gurus and then claim they are Sikhs. I am just so sick and tired of it all, N. Singh. Even today I was offered a laddoo by a siblig's in-law. She had delivered a male! When she delivered a female, trust me, there were no bloody laddoos. I refused it, of course.

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